You’ve got to love Reuven Rivlin. You’ve got to love the way our avuncular president cheerfully bumbles his way through those well-constructed texts his excellent English-language speechwriters pen for him, mangling the words here and there but still managing to convey the good will at their heart.
You’ve got to love the way he so publicly wrestles with his foundational dilemma — his conflicting core beliefs that all the land from the river to the sea is the birthright of the Jews and that democracy is the birthright of all, including the Palestinians who almost outnumber us.
You’ve got to love the glee with which he has embraced the presidency, so plainly reveling in the capacity to reach out to disaffected and disadvantaged Israelis — Jews and Arabs — even if, as president, there is little he can provide by way of practical assistance.
You’ve got to love that after the cerebral, grave, ostensibly visionary presidency of Shimon Peres, we now have a backslapping, hevre-man president — a president who, at Wednesday’s candle-lighting Hanukkah ceremony at the White House, veritably smashed his hand from on high into President Obama’s (as can be seen in the clip below) — no cool, polite, perfunctory grip, this — and doubtless would have bear-hugged the leader of the free world if the opportunity had presented itself. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the broadly smiling Obama enjoyed his time with Rivlin just a tad more than his meetings with our prime minister.)
We should dispatch Rivlin posthaste to embrace that unpleasant Mahmoud Abbas. Permanent peace may be beyond even the warm-hearted Rivlin, but he could at least offer an interim one-hug solution.
Congratulations to Kaia Netanyahu for subverting the laws of journalism. The rule is usually “Man bites dog,” great story; “Dog bites man,” no story at all. But in taking one nibble out of a Likud Knesset member and another out of the lawyer husband of the deputy foreign minister at the Netanyahus’ Hanukkah house party on Wednesday night, the prime minister’s adopted stray chewed her way onto Thursday’s front pages.
In so doing, she may also have provided a solution to the prime minister’s great Donald Dilemma. He doesn’t really want to be seen meeting with the “ban the Muslims” candidate, but he can’t say no to a leading presidential contender. Simple: Just invite Trump to visit him at home, make it known that Kaia will again be in attendance, and watch as the Republican frontrunner discovers that actually, er, sorry, he has a prior engagement.
Privately, I’m guessing Netanyahu is rather enjoying the global row over Trump’s call to prevent Muslims entering the United States until lawmakers can “figure out what is going on” with radical Islam. For one thing, Trump’s radical soundbites make some of the prime minister’s comments — the Arabs are voting in droves — look relatively moderate by comparison. For another, Netanyahu indisputably shares the root concern over Islamist terrorism at the heart of Trump’s uncalibrated declaration.
It was telling that, in the statement Netanyahu’s office finally issued on Wednesday night reiterating the prime minister’s readiness to meet with Trump on December 28 — a short text that was doubtless drafted and redrafted over several hours — he “rejects” Trump’s comments but doesn’t explain why. The statement carefully distances Israel from Trump’s would-be America: “The State of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens,” it notes (my emphasis). But it also cites the grave Islamist threat that prompted Trump’s outburst: “At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and threatens the entire world.”
The refusal of Trump’s campaign for the presidency to collapse under the accumulating weight of his extreme political incorrectness is prompting some rare humility in the punditry business, including in Israel. Commentators here had been routinely writing him off until the last few days, but now they’re not so sure. Hebrew University’s American Studies professor Yael Sternhell acknowledged on Army Radio Thursday morning that she’d been wrong to dismiss Trump’s candidacy months ago, and while she was still pretty sure he couldn’t win the presidency — there just aren’t enough Americans who could ever vote for him, she asserted — she could no longer say with confidence that he wouldn’t be the Republican nominee. The truth is that voters in democracies have an irritating habit of confounding pundits and pollsters by frequently doing the supposedly unthinkable. And a further truth is that unfolding events routinely make a mockery of attempts at prediction.
France is currently “reeling in shock,” the headlines tell us, over the first place showing of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in round one of regional elections this week — except that France is most definitely not reeling in shock at all. It was France, after all, that voted for Le Pen in such high numbers. The only people “reeling in shock” are those who firmly asserted that such an outcome was unfeasible. And their shock is a consequence of their own shortsightedness. In a France newly rocked by an Islamist bloodbath and facing a migrant influx, why wouldn’t a far-right, anti-immigrant party thrive?
Across the Channel, meanwhile, Britain is supposedly a little surprised that the opposition Labour Party, purportedly unelectable under its new far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, passed its first test with flying colors last week by soaring to victory in a by-election in Oldham, the first it had fought under Corbyn’s leadership. Most every political expert has been declaiming that the dangerous Corbyn — widely misportrayed as an unworldly pacifist, when he is in fact a self-declared friend of Hamas and Hezbollah — cannot possibly become prime minister of Great Britain. But most every political expert comes from those advantaged sectors of British society that so underestimate the disaffection in a country beset by class distinctions and inequalities. A credible champion of the aspirational masses could certainly win election there. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband was no such champion; by contrast, you write off Corbyn at your peril.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump, and the question of his electability. Of course he can’t be, won’t be, president of the United States. Of course, there simply aren’t enough Americans who could ever conceivably vote for him. Except that, to take a page out of Israel’s electoral history book, there emphatically weren’t enough Israeli voters who could conceivably have voted for Netanyahu in May of 1996. Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated, had been laid to rest barely six months before. Interim prime minister Peres was sure to be confirmed as his successor; it was the least Israelis could do in national penance for the killing. Netanyahu, the Rabin-criticizing head of the right-wing opposition, was politically toxic.
Except that four Hamas suicide bombings in eight days in February-March, four acts of Islamist terror in which some 60 Israelis were murdered, remade our national politics. Peres was defeated. By a margin of 29,457 votes, Netanyahu was elected prime minister.
In this day and age, this dismal era of emboldened death-cult Islamist terror, nobody should discount the possibility of variations of that sequence of events playing out and remaking national attitudes in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter.
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